Today, 4 May 2021, the South London Gallery celebrates its 130th birthday!
Here, we reflect on the gallery’s long history through a floor panel created by Walter Crane (1845-1915) and inlaid in the SLG’s Main Gallery. It reads: ‘The Source of Art is in the Life of a People.’
William Rossiter, the person responsible for establishing the South London Gallery, believed that art, literature and learning should be available to all, not only the privileged few.
A committed socialist, Crane’s beliefs were very much in line with the founding ethos of the South London Art Gallery, which opened in 1891: to be free and open to all.
The original floor was covered over some time after the gallery re-opened after the Second World War, but Crane’s inscription has gone on to inspire numerous responses. Read more about five of these, highlighted below:
1. Permeations: Light in the Attic (1993)
This photograph by local photographer Phil Polglaze shows the floor was revealed for the SLG’s 1993 exhibition of prints from the SLG’s collection Permeations: Light in the Attic. In the 1980s and 1990s, Polglaze captured hundreds of moments at the SLG. The focus of his pictures was rarely the art on display but rather the people gathered in the Main Gallery – read more about his work here.
2. Perfectly placed (2004)
As part of a group exhibition curated by the late Donna Lynas, artist Goshka Macuga made a table incorporating a play on the central section of Crane’s original floor, changing the text to read ‘The source of life is in the art of a people’. The work was one of five specially commissioned responses inspired by south London, which formed the basis for a series of debates, artist-led discussions and workshops about art production and appreciation.
3. Roman Ondak’s solo exhibition (2016)
In 2016 Roman Ondak used the inscription on Walter Crane’s floor as the title of his solo show, The Source of Art is in the Life of a People. The exhibition lasted one hundred days and explored ideas around the passage of time and the intertwining of present and past.
Watch our film about the exhibition here:
4. Haegue Yang: Tracing Movement (2019)
Throughout Haegue Yang’s solo show, 26 artificial productions of human speech repeated the words ‘the source of art is in the life of a people.’
The geometric design marked out in tape on the floor, pictured below, also responded to Crane’s panel.
Yang traced certain lines, before rotating the design in two different directions. The off kilter repositioning served as a metaphor for processes of translation and interpretation, migration and movement.
5. Jude Yawson, The Source of Art is in the Life of a People: A poem (2020)
To celebrate our joint Art Fund Museum of the Year win, last year we asked poet Jude Yawson to respond to these powerful words.
The poem is read here by Jude and some of the SLG’s friends, reflecting on what the words mean to us over 100 years later.
Starring: Jude Yawson, Akhera Williams, Liz Sibthorpe, Miranda Sawyer, Dario Jade Blake, Novuyo Moyo and Gaby Sahhar.